Senator Mark Norris
9A Legislative Plaza,
Nashville, Tennessee 37243-0232
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©2017 Mark Norris
February 23, 2017
Republican legislators seem taken aback by the public reaction to legislation and executive orders aimed at rolling back many of the gains that have made in areas such as universal health care, environmental protection and economic security.
People are up in arms, figuratively speaking, all over the country. They’re worried, passionate and a bit mouthy sometimes. It’s in all the papers.
It would be a big mistake to use that as an excuse, however, to turn back the clock on the rights to which everyone is entitled to express their grievances and have access to the people elected to serve the public.
That seems to be the way things might be headed in Tennessee, where Lt. Gov. Randy McNally said he is considering reinstating a policy that used to require the General Assembly’s visitors to have their identification papers scanned and to wear a badge.
The change would require agreement by the leadership of both chambers of the legislature.
“We’re in favor of going back to have a little more security,” said McNally, referring to a previous system that generated long lines and frayed nerves at the Capitol in years past.
“I think people having name tags on, it’s a little bit of a deterrent to being violent or disruptive,” McNally said.
Some behavior of protesters, such as preventing lawmakers from getting on elevators and leaving legislative offices, he said, “shouldn’t occur.”
Well, yes. And neither should public officials try to avoid being held accountable for the kinds of legislation and executive actions some people feel is regressive and, as a result, are causing all the hubbub.
“We should be bending over backwards to allow the public to come speak with us,” said Rep Mike Stewart, D-Nashville.
Credit Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris for trying to find some middle ground on this divisive issue.
“There’s sometimes a fine line between free speech and the situations where you’re worried about inciting some sort of violence,” the Collierville Republican said on a talk radio appearance. “We haven’t seen anything like that at all.”
There have been strong reactions, however, to events such as the news conference at which GOP state Sen. Mae Beavers and GOP state Rep. Mark Pody tried to defend bills they have introduced. One would mimic disastrous North Carolina legislation requiring transgender students to use the bathroom assigned to the gender listed on their birth certificates. Another would limit marriage to a union between a man and woman.
After Beavers suggested that protesters at the news conference should be imprisoned, citing a provision of the state constitution allowing each chamber to “punish, by imprisonment … any person not a member, who shall be guilty of disrespect to the House, by any disorderly or any contemptuous behavior,” they staged a noisy sit-in at her office.
While it’s unlikely that such protests by themselves accomplish much, they are part of a broader wave of discontent that must be reckoned with as concerns about the direction in which the country is headed grow. Republican members of the U.S. House and Senate also are learning all about the movement, at their town hall meetings back in their districts.
Efforts to squelch the right of people to express their concerns will only make the situation worse.